“Robot Fabio”

Here’s my robot-death story for Leigh Teetzel, entitled “Robot Fabio.” Enjoy!


ROBOT FABIO

“Enough of these fucking Fabios,” Leigh Teetzel said, pushed away from her desk, stood up, and went for lunch.

She had worked at Marlekwin—a publisher that produced bodice-rippers—for fifteen years now, and had seen more bullshit in print than she’d care to admit. Her job as an editor saw her routinely shovelling ten pounds of literary shit into a five-pound bag, which is what had been happening when, yet again, her upper Fabio limit had been reached, and she needed a break. This—coupled with the ridiculous behaviour of the women in most of these books—had again amounted to all she could take.

Also, it was lunchtime, and food in her belly usually calmed her down enough to dive back into the horror come 1 p.m.

She rode the elevator down to street level, headed over to the Starbucks inside the giant office building that housed the Marlekwin offices. She stood in line, muttering under her breath about Fabios and the useless women who loved them.

What do these women think they’re going to get when they marry these kinds of guys? They’re just meat with eyes, for chrissakes! And why do the women who write the damn books want to perpetuate this crap!?

She must have still been scowling when she got to the front of the line because the barista asked, “Why so glum!?” All cheery and full of beans.

She had the sudden urge to slap the ridiculous smile right off his hipster face.

Instead, she took a deep breath, and said simply, “Just work stress. Nothing that won’t pass.”

The guy nodded appreciatively. “Heh, yeah. We’ve all been there. Mondays, am I right?”

She forced a smile that looked like she’d just swallowed a bee. She tried to emit a chuckle, but a croak came out instead. Dropping the charade, she let her face fall, and said, “Just a large coffee, please. Black.”

“Robot Fabio?” the guy said.

Leigh was digging in her wallet for change, and didn’t hear what he’d said.

“Miss, you said, ‘Robot Fabio,’ right?”

This time she heard him. She looked up, faintly alarmed. “What did you say?”

The guy rolled his eyes a little. “Your order. Robot Fabio. Is that correct?”

Leigh just stared at him. “Uhhhhh . . .”

She turned around quickly to see if the guy behind her had heard the same thing. He just looked annoyed.

“I asked for a large black coffee.”

“Right,” the barista said. “Robot Fabio coming right up. Can I have a name for the order?”

“Excuse me, sorry. What’s a Robot Fabio, and why do you keep saying that’s my order?”

The barista looked confused. “Because that’s what you asked for. Can I have a name, please?”

“Leigh,” she said. “For a large black coffee, though, right?”

The barista scowled. “Yes, exactly. That’s what I said. Several times.” He walked away from the counter, went into the staff room.

Leigh wondered what the hell had just happened. She put her money on the counter for when the barista returned.

Moments later, a robot that vaguely resembled Fabio came out with the barista. It had apparently been put together without much care: the hair was clearly a women’s cheap wig; its pecs looked like stretched turkey skin, and the penis (which was, alarmingly, exposed) was quite obviously a fat pork sausage. The rest of the body was metal. It clanked across the floor, hydraulic noises accompanying every step. It reminded Leigh of the T-1000 in The Terminator—if it had been put together by a romance writer high as fuck on LSD.

The barista called out, “Robot Fabio! Robot Fabio for Leigh!”

Leigh wasn’t sure whether to run and hide, or put up her hand. In the end, it didn’t matter. Robot Fabio spotted her, and came out from behind the counter. “Hello, Leigh,” it said, amiably enough, its voice sounding like a digitized version of Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

Up close, it was even more horrific. The metal of its face looked melted, and now she could see that it used to have skin, but it had been burned off at some point. Tatters of it still clung to the steel here and there, like a robotic Leatherface.

She backed up as it came closer. She turned to look at the other patrons, assuming she’d see looks of horror on their faces, too, but they only looked annoyed. The guy who’d been behind her in line, said, “Jeez, lady, what’s with all the drama? Just take your order and go already.”

Robot Fabio clunked past her, opened the door, said, “After you!”

Leigh shot out the door as quickly as she could, making sure to stay as far away from the thing as possible.

When they got outside, it looked down at her, its demeanour changing instantly. It leaned down next to her ear, whispered, “I’ve heard everything you’ve said about my kind, and the women who love us.”

It stood up again, grinned horribly, then ripped Leigh limb from limb right there in the street. It tore her to pieces, blood slashing passersby, the pavement, the flowers. Then it skinned her remains, using the tattered pieces of flesh as its own.

It shuffled into the Starbucks, went back behind the counter, into the staff room.

Where it waited to be summoned again.

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“Very Good”

Here’s my robot-death story for John Eddison! (John is a friend, so this one revolves around an inside joke—basically, John likes to yell out “VERY GOOD!” between songs when he goes to metal shows.)


VERY GOOD

The year is 2093 . . .

At the Deep Space Gateway, no one can hear you scream.

Well, except people that are, like, super-close to you when you scream. Those people can still hear you. But nobody else. . . . Except maybe if you have, like, a comms channel open, then whoever’s on the receiving end—assuming they’re paying attention—they’ll probably hear you, too.

But nobody else!

And the Deep Space Gateway (DSG) is where we find our hero, Sir John Eddison. He had been knighted by the Queen back on earth thirteen years ago for his contributions in the field of quantum tectonics. (Don’t look that up; it’s probably not a thing.)

Anyway, Sir John was an astronaut now, and he’d been sent to the DSG to help launch a human-shaped robot into space. It had been designed to look like an especially fearsome-looking human so that if it came into contact with aliens, it would immediately strike fear into their hearts (assuming the aliens had hearts, of course). Earth had long ago given up the idea of making peace with intergalactic species—there was so little room left on earth these days that all we wanted to do was pillage and rape the cosmos. Every dime of every nations’ space programs had gone into building this terrifying robot ship. It was our last ditch effort to get off this collapsing rock, and Sir John was in charge of its launch.

On board were a bunch of highly trained space marines—very much like the ones in ALIENS. They’d even named themselves after the characters in that film. Sir John was not on board with these space marines, but was in a little launch shack separated from the ship. It was a tiny little shed with just enough room for the launch controls and the person operating them. He’d been told it was this small because they’d run out of money building the giant robot.

The design they’d decided on to strike universal fear into the galaxy was Gort, the robot from the original THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. There was no reason to think that other species would see this design as frightening, but we only had our own fears to go on, so after much hand-wringing, that’s the direction they went.

So today was the big day—launch day! In T-minus 20 seconds, Sir John would launch this fearsome battle-ready beast into the unknown, where it would presumably eventually run into aliens, which it would enslave, destroy, and ultimately conquer. Then we’d steal all their shit, and ruin their planet, just like we’ve done to ours.

It was very exciting, and Sir John was the most excited of anyone. He’d dreamed of this day since he was a small boy—ruining the galaxy for his own selfish desires—and he was beyond honoured to be the one pushing the button that would set it all in motion!

5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . !

With a giant smile on his bearded face, Sir John pushed the ignition button . . . and was instantly vapourized as the rockets—which had been placed in the robot’s anus—fired up. His scorched corpse blasted out the back end of his little shack, and disappeared into the void of space.

You see, unbeknownst to Sir John, one of the engineers that helped build the colossal robot was also a musician who played in a heavy metal band that Sir John would often go to see. Over the years, Sir John had gained a reputation for yelling out “VERY GOOD” between songs and, while most bands found this behaviour profoundly endearing, this particular engineer was not impressed at all, and had grown to loathe Sir John. His hatred festered, and had culminated in hatching a complex plan to make sure Sir John was the one to be in the launch shed on this celebrated day in history.

His plan came off without a hitch—right down to slightly angling the anus rockets so that they would blast apart the launch shed.

Sir John had been sharted out into space, never to be seen again.

Down on earth, at mission control, the engineer narrowed his eyes to slits, and whispered, “Very good.”

“Fred”

My first 500-word robot-death story in a while—this one for Andrew Russo. It’s called “Fred.”


FRED

 

The last time I saw my robot, Fred, he was walking out of the house with a gun.

The safe it had been in was locked, and Fred didn’t have the combination—but that didn’t matter because he just busted open the safe.

I tried to call him back, but he was determined. He marched straight out the door, and didn’t look back.

It was only after turning on the news an hour later that I knew where he’d gone.

*

Based on the news reports I saw both on TV and online, Fred had walked into a nearby elementary school and opened fire. He shot and killed eleven children and four teachers.

When a robot goes haywire and decides to shoot up a school, you don’t hear about the wounded; there are only those who get killed and those who survive without a scratch.

A ten-year-old girl used her cell phone amidst the shooting to call 911. The police arrived very quickly, located Fred, and shot him twice in the head with special bullets made specifically to kill robots.

Once the smoke had cleared, and the dead catalogued, the police searched the robot for its identification number, which would link it back to me as it owner.

When they knocked on my door, I didn’t resist.

*

No details that came forward later helped explain why Fred did what he did. No system malfunctions were found when they gutted him, so I was subsequently found not guilty of all criminal responsibility.

When I was released, I went home and watched and read as much as I could online about the killings. One story that emerged, and was mentioned over and over again to the point of going viral, was about one of the teachers who died—a man named Andrew Russo. When Fred came into the classroom and started shooting, kids scattered everywhere. Most of them were mowed down, but one of them survived because Andrew dove on top of her—a little girl named Micaylah Spencer. Andrew took seven bullets to the back and neck for her. Fred hadn’t turned quickly enough to see that Andrew had dived on top of her, so she lived.

*

I lay awake most nights wondering if there was something I could have done, something I could have said to have stopped Fred from murdering those kids and teachers. I saw no warning signs, no mood changes in him, nothing. He just woke up that morning, and decided to ruin all those lives for no reason, no purpose that anyone could discern.

I have recurring nightmares that Andrew Russo is standing at the foot of my bed, bleeding, filled with holes. He stares at me, says things, mouth moving, but I hear nothing.

I stare back at him, my mouth moving, too, maybe apologizing, I don’t know.

But he cannot hear me, either.

 

“The Borscht Mother”

Here’s my 6th robot-death story, this one for David Demchuk!


THE BORSCHT MOTHER

“What’s that thing, mum?”

Little Davey Demchuk sat at the kitchen table, a bowl of borscht in front of him, spoon at the ready. It hovered there, frozen, as the object at the far end of the table caught his eye.

“That’s a matryoshka doll,” his mother replied.

“What’s a matter-yosker doll?”

His mother laughed. She turned from the stove where she was ladling borscht into her own bowl, walked toward her chair, sat down. She put the bowl in front of her, then picked up the doll. “Matryoshka dolls are nested inside each other, starting with a big one, and getting smaller and smaller as you open them up. Want to see?”

“Yeah!” Little Davey said.

“Okay, watch.” His mother opened the first doll to reveal a slightly smaller one inside. Then another, and another. Davey’s eyes widened with each opening until she got to the last one, which looked impossibly small to Davey. They were now all lined up in a row on the table.

“Wow!” he said, and smiled from ear to ear.

“Yes, very neat, wouldn’t you say?” His mother beamed just as widely as her son at his happiness. It had always been this way. She lived for him, and he for her.

“Hey,” Davey said, his smile suddenly slipping from his face, “what’s that one doing, mum?”

“What one, darling?” she said, and looked down, following his gaze.

The largest of the dolls seemed to be putting itself back together. The two pieces were slowly but surely coming together again all on their own. Mother and son just stared as this happened. Davey’s mother instantly thought it was a curse coming to bear on them, some punishment coming due. Davey just thought it was awesome.

Once the biggest one had put itself together, the second biggest started doing the same thing—and on down the line. Davey’s mother pushed her chair back very slowly while they did this, as if any sudden movement might alert them to her presence.

When they were all fully back together, they started to move. Davey’s mother stood up and shrieked, knocking her chair over in the process.

It sounded to Davey like little gears were moving inside the dolls. It was faint, but he was sure he could hear it.

“Mum?”

No answer.

“Mum, what do we do?” Davey asked and, for the first time, felt the sting of terror in his heart. He pushed his own chair back, and ran quickly to his mother. She hugged him to her side. Davey buried his face in her chest. He was more afraid of her reaction than of the little dolls themselves.

But that was about to change.

The whirring of the gears got louder, and the dolls formed a tight circle. They began vibrating, jittering on the table, as if communicating with each other. A two-inch spike suddenly shot out of each of the dolls’ chests. They turned toward Davey and his mother, the vibrating becoming more forceful until they were bouncing all over the table.

That’s when they struck.

They launched themselves from the table en masse, and drove their spikes into Davey’s mother’s head. Most of them landed on the top of her skull, but the smaller ones wound up on her face, dotting her cheeks and forehead, still whirring with life.

Davey batted at them with his little hands, but it did nothing. They were stuck in hard.

Strangely, his mother did not scream, or struggle in any way. She just stood there with the dolls all over her head, and stared forward. The dolls stopped wriggling then, their gears winding down. Whatever they’d done to his mother, it was over. They sat motionless on her skin.

Then she spoke:

“More soup?” she said, her voice inflectionless. It no longer sounded at all like Davey’s mother.

Davey began to cry.

She moved to the stove, picked up the ladle there, and stirred the soup. “Sit down,” she said in her weird new voice, “and we’ll have more soup. Borscht is best served with love. And my love for you is forever. It will never, ever die. Sit down, darling. Sit down.”

Davey walked slowly to his chair, sat down, still bawling, tears obscuring his vision.

His mother stirred the soup fast for a minute, then slowed down more and more until Davey calmed down a bit, tears drying on his face. His breath still came in hitches, but his vision had cleared, and he could think somewhat straight again.

“Mom?” he said quietly—almost too quietly to be heard. But the new mother heard him. She would always be able to hear her only son, no matter where he went, and no matter how quiet he became.

Instead of answering in words, she suddenly stopped stirring the soup, and turned to face her son.

As little Davey watched, a thin crack formed down one side of her body, opening, opening . . .

Inside, he saw another mother. A slightly smaller version. And then that version opened, too.

On and on, deeper and deeper inside, until this new being, this flayed mother, stood before him. Red the colour of beetroot.

Davey’s tears came harder this time, obscuring his vision once again. He bowed his head, unable to look at the creature anymore.

And when it finally spoke, it did not speak of love.

Killer review of A PERFECT MACHINE by Corey Redekop!

Yeah, this one made my whole damn week:

http://www.coreyredekop.ca/perfect-machine-voodoo-killings-book-review/#Machine

Here’s a snippet:

‘While on its surface A Perfect Machine would appear to fit comfortably within the genre niche of “science fiction thriller”, it quickly proves itself to have a lot more on its mind. Savory isn’t afraid to push his story away from its more straightforward Running Man underpinnings and into the mind-melting strangeness inherent of the writings of Stanislaw Lem, Theodore Sturgeon, Samuel R. Delany, and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. If I may attempt to translate the novel into more cinematic terms (an apt tactic, I believe, considering the vastly cinematic nature of the narrative), the tale of Kyllo’s transformation is Philip K. Dick by way of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, with a side trip into the body horrors of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, H. R. Giger’s biomechanical artwork, and the gruesome Japanese cyberpunk film Tetsuo: The Iron Man.’

“Sucked to Death”

Robot death #5! This one for Greg Herren.


SUCKED TO DEATH

“I had a friend who once stuck his doinker in a Roomba,” Chip said, raking leaves with his friend and business partner, Greg. They owned a gardening company together.

“Ha. Good one. A friend,” Greg replied, using air quotes for the word friend.

“No, honestly, not me. Buddy of mine. Don’t think you know him. Steve Jenkinson.”

“That name sounds super-made-up.”

“Your face sounds super-made-up,” Chip said, and smiled wide.

“How can my face sound like anything? That doesn’t even make sense.”

“You face doesn’t even make—”

“Ugh,” Greg grunted, cutting Chip off.

“Come on, seriously, you think I’d stick my doinker in a Roomba? You think I’m that dumb?” Chip asked, stuffing a handful of leaves into a yard bag.

“Well, let’s see. You’re dumb enough to trot out ‘Steve Jenkinson’ as a name to cover up for the fact that you stuck your cock in a Roomba, so yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say you’re that dumb,” said Greg.

“Oh, like ‘Greg Herren’ is such a real-sounding name.”

Greg just stared at his friend for a while, aghast at his idiocy. Then he said: “Anyway, tell me about the time you stuck your cock in a Roomba.”

Chip sighed. “Forget it.”

The next day, finishing up the same lawn:

“Have you heard about iRobot’s new Roomba model?” Chip asked.

“Is this another non-story about your friend ‘Steve’ getting a Roomba blowy?” Greg replied.

“No. And shut up. I do have a friend name Steve Jenkinson.”

“Okay, but imaginary friends don’t count. You know that, right?”

“Haha. Whatever. Listen, this is serious. iRobot’s new Roomba is a joint venture with Dyson so they could get maximum sucking power. It’s a full-size man or woman of your choice. You can make it look like anyone you want. And it vacuums your fucking house. So rad.”

Greg propped his rake against a tree. “Say what now?” He wiped sweat from his brow, and sat down with his back against the tree.

“Hey, it’s not break time,” Chip said, playfully whacking Greg with his rake.

“Yes, it is. I can’t very well be expected to rake leaves and listen to your ridiculous bullshit.”

Chip leaned his own rake next to Greg’s, pulled out his smartphone, tapped it a bunch of times, swiped here and there, then turned the screen toward Greg, and leaned down. “Look, fuck-knuckle. The new Roomba/Dyson hybrid.”

Greg sighed and took the phone from Chip’s hand. His eyes widened considerably. “Jesus H.”

“See? Told ya, dingus.”

The image on the screen was of a very attractive man holding a vacuum—rather, the vacuum was one of its arms, seamlessly blending from a hand into a pipe, broadening out to become a vacuum head when it reached the floor.

“Creepy, but . . . yeah, dude is super-hot. No argument there,” Greg said, passed the phone back to Chip. “You gonna name yours Steve Jenkinson?”

Chip kicked Greg in the feet. “Shut it, filth.”

“Seriously, though, are you gonna get one?”

“They’re way too expensive for me.”

“What if I bought you one?”

“Whoa, you’d do that?” Chip asked, suddenly very excited.

“Sure, why not? I have some extra dough socked away, and I still owe you some for the extra you’ve put into the business. And hey, you’re my buddy, and it makes me sad that no one wants to blow you.”

Chip kicked Greg’s feet again, this time much harder.

“Hey, easy! Save that energy for your new boyfriend,” Greg said, standing back up, and brushing himself off.

They raked up the rest of the leaves, and put the yard bags at the end of the customer’s driveway for pick-up. He wouldn’t tell Chip but, truth be told, Greg was pretty excited to see what this sexy vacuuming robot was all about.

When it arrived four days later, Greg was at Chip’s house playing video games with him.

The doorbell rang, and Chip nearly knocked everything off his coffee table leaping for the door.

“Christ! Take it easy!” Greg yelled after him. “You really do have toxic sperm build-up, don’t you?”

Chip ignored him, whipped open the door, flirted with the FedEx guy while he signed for the massive box sitting on his porch.

“Hey,” Chip yelled into the living room, “help me get this monster into the house!”

They hauled it in, unpacked it, put it together, and now stood appreciating it in the living room.

“It has a very nice penis,” Chip said.

“Yes. Yes, it does,” Greg agreed.

“Want to turn it on, see if it works?”

“Should we put some clothes on it first?”

Chip considered this for a moment. “Why bother?”

“Just less creepy is all. He’s very creepy right now, don’t you think? His dong just hanging out like that.”

“No, I like it. No clothes for him. That’s settled,” Chip said and grinned at Greg.

“Fine, have it your way.”

Chip leaned forward and flicked the on switch.

The moment it came to life, it dropped to its knees and started sucking at the air with its mouth. It raised its hands like it was cupping a shaft and balls.

“Jesus!” Greg said. “Are there different settings? It must be set to SexBot or something. Turn it off. That’s disturbing as hell.”

“Says the guy who has no trouble getting blown,” Chip said.

“Well, if you’re leaving it like that, I’m outta here.”

Greg headed for the door, a shiver winding its way up his spine. Something about the thing’s eyes . . . Christ. Horrifying.

Behind him, the robot stood up. “Where are you going, friend?” it asked.

Greg froze, turned around slowly, tried not to look directly into the thing’s eyes.

“You bought me to clean Chip’s house and give you blowjobs,” it said.

“Good lord,” Greg muttered under his breath. “I’m not your fucking friend, you weird-ass machine. Now back off.”

It dropped to its knees and started sucking the air again. “Give me your cock, friend. Give it to me. Give it to me. RIGHT NOW.” On the last two words, its voice dropped several octaves. “GET IT IN ME. GET IT IN ME RIGHT NOW.”

The slurping sounds were horrendous. Greg involuntarily backed up till he slammed against the door. The hand motions were harsher now. Greg imagined his dick in those hands being pummelled and crushed.

“Turn it off, Chip. Jesus! Something’s obviously wrong with it. Turn the goddamn thing off!”

Chip moved forward, tried flicking the off/on switch, but nothing happened. It stood up again, starting moving toward Greg, sucking the air, slurping sloppily, drool now running from the corners of its mouth.

“It won’t shut off, Greg. Fuck! What do I do?”

“Kick it! Punch it! Do something!”

Chip tried pushing it over, tried punching it, but it didn’t stop, didn’t even waver.

Then it was right in front of Greg, who stood paralyzed by fear. His hand reached behind him, scrambling blindly for the doorknob, but the robot’s hand pulled Greg’s away from the knob, moved it down to its engorged penis.

“STROKE ME,” it said in its nasty, guttural voice. Then it dropped to its knees for a third time, and its voice changed to an insistent whisper. “LOVE ME, LOVE ME.”

Greg screamed as the robot pulled his pants down hard, jammed Greg’s cock in its mouth. It sucked and sucked, its Dyson motor revving up to full power. Its eyes rolled back in its head.

“FILL MY HEPA FILTER WITH YOUR LOVE,” it moaned.

That’s when Greg lost consciousness.

Right before his cock was ripped off entirely by the force of the vacuum engine, he heard Chip very far away, saying, “But . . . it was supposed to be my robot. No fair. It was supposed to be mine.”

Chip called 911, but Greg bled to death on Chip’s floor before the ambulance could arrive.

The next day, Chip returned the robot for a full refund, and ordered a regular Roomba instead. He used the extra refunded money to pay for Greg’s funeral.

And a blowy from his friend Steve Jenkinson.

“The Universe Understands”

Finished my fourth robot-death story yesterday, “The Universe Understands,” for Ali Magnum.

Enjoy!

Brett


THE UNIVERSE UNDERSTANDS

The pensioner didn’t know what hit him.

One minute, he was just waiting at the bus stop, the next, he had a knife embedded hilt-deep in his ribs. He fell over, gasping for air. Ali Magnum kicked him twice in the face.

“Goddamn, you’re old,” she said.

He gurgled, then passed out from loss of blood.

A good citizen across the street called 911.

Ali fled the scene.

“I knifed a pensioner today,” Ali said over breakfast the next day.

“Oh, yeah? Who was it? Anyone you know?” the man across from her at the table said.

“Nah, just some old, used-up fuck,” Ali said and sneered around her mouthful of Honey Nut Cheerios.

“You do know you’re a horrible person who’s going to one day meet a disastrous end, don’t you? You have to know that.”

“Oh, I know,” Ali said. “I know very well. I even have hopes for how it happens.”

She let that hang over the table for a while, then she wiped her mouth with her sleeve, pushed back from her chair, said, “Well, I’m off to desecrate a church. Back by noon.”

The man, his mouth full of cereal, just nodded, waved his hand in Ali’s general direction.

Ali marched into the closest church she could find, threw open the big double doors, and hollered, “Everyone get the fuck out! I’m burnin’ this bitch to the ground!”

The pastor abruptly stopped speaking at the pulpit. The congregation turned in their pews, faces a sea of shocked horror.

“Go on,” Ali said, “get up, and get the fuck out! This is my church now.”

Some people panicked and ran immediately for the various exits. Others were still in shock, and just stared dumbly at Ali. She waved around the jerry can she’d picked up at the hardware store and filled up along the way. “This is full of gasoline, you dimwits. If you want to die horribly in a fire, by all means remain seated, but if you want to live, stand up and vacate the fucking premises!”

“Hey!” a young man a few pews over yelled. “Aren’t you the woman who stabbed that pensioner at the bus stop this morning?”

“Yeah, that was me,” Ali said. “Which is how you know I mean business about this whole church-burning thing. Now get out.”

“That was pretty great,” the young man said. “I’ve always hated that old bastard. Fred Mersten. He always looked at me like he wanted to eat me.”

“Glad to be of service, then. Now go,” Ali said, and started dousing the pews and aisles in gas. More people screamed and ran out the doors.

“Oh, now people believe me. Jesus Christ. This is why humanity is in such a shit state. It takes so goddamn much to prove to people that you mean to actually murder them.”

“Hey,” the young man said, now standing up and walking over to where Ali was liberally sprinkling gas on some old fuck who’d fallen asleep and still hadn’t woken up, despite all the shouting and general commotion. Maybe he was already dead. “I totally dig where you’re going with this ’cause I love to destroy things, too—especially people and churches—but you know the pastor is a robot, right? They’re programmed to kill if their congregation is threatened.”

Ali stopped with the gas for a moment, looked up at the pastor, who looked entirely like a human being. “Um, that’s a person, dipshit. Robots are metal. Nice try, though.”

“Nah, nah, they make robots nowadays that look like humans but are actually metal underneath.”

Ali stopped again. She’d seen movies like that before. She looked up at the pastor, who stood motionless at his pulpit still. That is a bit weird, she thought. Why wasn’t he trying to stop her, or running away like everyone else?

“Hey, pastor shit-for-brains!” Ali shouted.

The pastor didn’t move or answer, just stood with his hands on either side of the pulpit.

Ali sighed, walked toward him, dripping a line of gas in her wake. When she reached him, she raised the can to eye level where he could see it, then dropped it to the floor. “I ain’t fuckin’ around, dummy.”

The only ones left in the church now were the young man, the old (possibly already dead) man in the pew, Ali, and the pastor.

She poked the pastor in the chest. “Oy, fucko. I’m talkin’ to you.”

The pastor just stared straight ahead.

Ali glanced back at the young man, who now looked very nervous. He said, “Listen, uh, I’m gonna bounce, but, um, yeah, keep it real, yo. Fight the power, or whatever!”

The young man ran out the door as fast as his legs would take him.

Ali shrugged, turned back to the pastor. She poked him hard in the chest.

“I’m gonna burn down your church, and you ain’t gonna try to stop me? What the fuck is that about? Don’t have the courage of your convictions?”

The pastor finally moved. He turned his head slowly to face Ali.

“On behalf of the iRobot corporation, and its continuing directive to prevent religious hate crimes of the sort you are perpetrating, I sentence you to death.”

Ali frowned. Could it be, she thought? No, impossible. Too good to be true. “Well, on behalf of fuck you, I don’t give a shit,” she said, and reached into her pocket, retrieved a Zippo lighter, flicked it, produced a flame.

As she dropped the lighter, the pastor extended a hand so quickly that Ali had no time to react. He snatched the lighter out of the air, pulled it back and calmly put it into one of the folds of his robe. Then he spoke gently: “Haven’t you always wanted to be killed by a robot, Ali? Hasn’t that always been the way you wanted to die?”

“How did you . . . Who told you that? And how do you know my—?”

“No one told me, Ali. The universe knows everything, and we are all part of that universe. Sometimes things just coalesce into moments like this, and we get our wishes. What’s the phrase humans use? . . . ‘Dreams sometimes do come true.’ You murder people to feel free. Nothing else makes you feel like you exist. I understand. The universe understands.”

Ali began to cry.

The old (not dead after all) man, soaked with gasoline in one of the pews, woke up, stood shakily, and wandered out into the chilly morning air.

The pastor removed the lighter from the folds of his robe, offered it to Ali. Tears in her eyes, she took it from the robot’s hand. “You cannot leave this place, Ali Magnum, but do not be ungrateful for what the universe has given you. I’ll be waiting outside,” he said, and walked slowly out the door.

When he was gone, Ali flicked the wheel of the lighter. A smile crept through the tears on her cheeks. She dropped it. Flames licked up from the floor immediately.

She did not scream while she burned.